Never ask a local the way

Trip Start Aug 07, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Tajikistan  , Gorno-Badakhshan,
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

 Never ask a local the way...

...essentially because they want to be helpful. I spend an unprofitable morning going backwards and forwards along what turns out to be the road to Dushanbe being variously told yes, this is the way, no it's back to Sary Tash and turn right, no, go back the way you came and fork left, no, go back to Sary Tash. The lightbulb finally goes on. Amidst all the continuing roadworks there is a section that is blocked off. I finally realise that generally in Central Asia rocks across the road and other impediments to travel are for guidance only. I risk the hazards of a lumpy piste and eventually I am on my way on a tarmac road with large potholes and not another vehicle in sight. I convince myself that this must be the way, there are no other choices and Miss Direction is in general agreement. Oh joy, I get to the Kyrgystan border post. The gate is shut. A dog comes charging down the hill barking and growling but soon gives up. A guard beckons me through so I unlock the gate, ride the bike through and relock the gate and I'm through. I rather like this DIY approach to border crossing. Formalities are simplicity itself and I'm on my way. Kyrgystan choses to have its border post 23ks away from the actual border. Sensible, because the actual border is at the Kyzyl Art Pass (4280m) and it is, as you might imagine a bit cold up here. It's been snowing and a lot of the track has become muddy. After sand, mud is my least favourite surface.

I get away with only one spill on a treacherous muddy switchback bend. Deep breath. Remember what you've learned. Take everything off, the bike, not me. Turn the bike around to face down hill. Easier said than done when it's in a hollow. Bend my knees and lift. Voila! Well yes, the second time. Reload the bike and I'm on my way. In the process I seem to have acquired an extra 10lbs of mud on my boots, clothes, gear etc.

The Tajikstan border post is just below the top of the pass and the soldiers and guards are housed in metal containers. I am ushered into the gloom of one. It takes me a few moments to acclimatise to the gloom. There is one man lying on a bed, another behind a desk and another behind me. And a TV going full blast. My details are taken and I'm through. The road drops down slightly before climbing the Uybulok Pass (4232m). The road gets better and I'm in a broad arid plain and riding along by Lake Karakol (yes, it's a popular name) surrounded by snow capped peaks. The biting cold is lost to me as I realise I am finally where I want to be. On the Pamir Highway and having such a high that all else merges into the background.

I come back down to earth when I reach the village of Karakol and see a sign for a homestay. They take dollars, an essential currency in Central Asia, and I join 11 others for a meal and then retire to three bedrooms. Don't ask. Meals tend to be noodles, potatoes, bread and tea in this part of the world. Occasionally fatty mutton but today we have yak yoghurt and butter as well. Sublime.

It did strike me on my way here that the cows seemed rather sprightly but they turn out to be yaks! I told you I was in a world of my own.
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